CINCINNATI (AP) -- Instead of a fast start, the Cubs are opening
the season on the wrong side of .500.
Sean Casey had three hits, including a bases-loaded double, and
overlooked Jose Acevedo pitched six solid innings Thursday, leading
the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-3 victory that represented an about-face
for both teams.By taking two of three, the Reds moved above .500 for the first
time since June 19. They opened their new ballpark last year by
getting swept in a three-game series against Pittsburgh."It's very important," said Danny Graves, who saved both wins.
"I can't remember the last time we got off to a good start. Even
with our good ballclubs, we never got off to a good start."The Cubs dropped below the break-even mark for the first time
since last July, when they were a season-low one game under three
times. They got on a roll and won their first division title in 14
years.The opening series showed they've got some work to do before
they start meeting expectations -- their fans' and their own."We know we're expected to win," starter Matt Clement said.
"There are many examples of teams in baseball history that were
loaded and didn't win."Clement (0-1) had a familiar bout of control problems, allowing
the Reds to pull ahead 4-0 after three innings. The streaky
right-hander needed 29 pitches in the first inning alone, when
Casey doubled home two runs and silenced the thousands of Cubs fans
in the stands."This was a big series with opening day and the Cubs in town,"
Casey said. "It was good for our confidence to win two out of
three."Clement tied for the NL lead in wild pitches last season with
13. He had one in his 2004 debut, and also walked three and hit a
batter. Catcher Michael Barrett wasn't much help -- his passed ball
let in a run."It just wasn't how you wanted to get started for the year,"
Clement said. "It just wasn't a good game. Things didn't go
right."They did for Acevedo (1-0), who won only two games in the majors
last season and was such an afterthought that he's featured in the
2004 media guide for Triple-A Louisville. He won a spot in the
rotation this spring by avoiding walks and emotional meltdowns
after mistakes.The right-hander gave up five hits -- all for extra bases -- and
didn't walk a batter in six innings, throwing 61 strikes in 81
pitches.Sosa had two of the hits, emerging from an 0-for-9 slump to open
the season.He doubled home a run in the fourth and hit a two-run homer in
the sixth, a shot that barely made the seats in left. Sosa was so
uncertain it would get out that he didn't do his home-run hop. He
had another double in the eighth off Todd Jones."Don't worry about me," Sosa said. "I'll be OK. I know I'm
going to be there. Like I say, I don't take long to get into that
groove."The NL Central rivals entered the series with opposite
expectations.The Reds slashed $14 million off their payroll from a year ago,
leaving them at $43 million. That's roughly $2 million less than
their payroll for the final season at Cinergy Field.Their fans are just hoping for respectability.By contrast, the Cubs have upgraded their roster and set their
sights on another breakthrough -- their first back-to-back winning
seasons since 1971-72. They're starting out on the wrong side of
.500."It's just a matter of time," Sosa said confidently. "We'll
be all right."More often than not Thursday, they were vintage Cubs.Corey Patterson misjudged Adam Dunn's liner to center and let it
drop in front of him for a single. Kent Mercker loaded the bases in
the fifth and walked D'Angelo Jimenez on four pitches to force in a
run.Sosa provided most of their offense, emphatically ending his
two-game slump. His homer left him one behind Ernie Banks' 512 for
the franchise record. He has 540 overall, 10th on the career list
behind Mike Schmidt at 548.Ken Griffey Jr. had a pair of singles for the Reds, leaving him
3-for-8 with a homer in two games. He had to sit out the opener
with a sore calf and ran the bases slowly as a precaution.
Cubs 2B Mark Grudzielanek had a pinch single. He went
6-for-10 in the series. ... The Reds opened last season with a 2-4
homestand and were never more than two games over .500 last season.
... Five youths in the upper deck held up a banner that read,
"Skipped skool to see Jr.'s MVP run."